FORT MONMOUTH, N.J.-Four New Jersey-based Department of Defense technology centers joined Monmouth University on March 25 to recognize top young researchers at the 2010 Monmouth Junior Science Symposium banquet here.

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communication and electronics center here hosted the event, which was attended by its sister armaments center at Picatinny Arsenal, Naval Weapons Station Earle and Naval Air Systems Command at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

The MJSS is a competitive science program for high school students, who present original research in the form of papers and posters.

"The amount of work these students do in order to participate in this program, and the caliber of that work, is a testament to the talent of these young people, as well as to the dedication of the teachers and professionals who mentor them," said Erica Fineman-Bertoli, Outreach program manager for the RDECOM Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC.

MJSS is one of 48 DoD-sponsored Junior Science and Humanities Symposiums organized by universities across the country. It began in 1963 and reaches across its area communities to bring together teachers, students, mentors and sponsors.

Unlike previous years, organizers allowed schools to participate in the symposium the first day even if they were unable to make the second, said Dr. Datta Naik, director, MJSS. This decision was to spark interest and increase participation, he said, while maintaining the caliber of the research.

"We want someone who is thinking originally, expanding their knowledge in one way or another," said Naik. "We get about 70 papers and only 16 get the opportunity."

For the others, he explained, judges select another tier for the general poster session, which recognizes the considerable effort of those students who didn't make the final group.

Robert Dorfman, a student from Freehold High School, shared that the inspiration for his paper, came to him one afternoon as he was reading the New England Journal of Medicine. Dorfman said he came across a previously unexplored factor in treating Alzheimer's. In his research, he identified a toxic protein, which he suspects could be the cause of the debilitating disease. He hopes his approach could lead to a breakthrough.

"Nothing has worked so far," he said. "And this could possibly start work in a new direction."

Researching cardio vascular health and implementing social change motivate Maria Theresa Mejia, a senior from Bergen County Academies. Mejia is interested in taking public policy courses when she goes to college in order to undergird her technical studies.

"What's the point to finding out about these solutions if you're not going to tell people about them and try to fix the world," she said.

This passion and curiosity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, is directly related to the freedoms Americans enjoy, said Navy Capt. David Harrison, commanding officer, Naval Weapons Station Earle.

"By backing programs like this we are helping to secure our future," said Harrison, who went on to explain that the strength of the military is linked to the economy, which relies on innovation.

Other speakers emphasized the imperative to reverse the downward trend of students pursuing careers in STEM.

"Many of us feel that we are charged with helping to overcome the significant loss of talent caused by the retirement of an aging workforce. These students are our future," said Bob Zanzalari, associated director, RDECOM CERDEC.

Five finalists from MJSS will have expenses paid to attend the National JSHS in Bethesda, Md. April 28 - May 2. The top two papers will be invited to present their research at the national level competition. The JSHS nationals will bring together more than 360 participants in a program of educational and scientific exchange.

A total of $4,500 undergraduate tuition, scholarships will be awarded at $2,000, $1,500 and $1,000 to each of the top three regional symposium finalists, according to the MJSS website.